Epidemic or Pandemic

What is an outbreak?

An outbreak is a sudden rise in the number of cases of a disease. An outbreak may occur in a community or geographical area, or may affect several countries. It may last for a few days or weeks, or even for several years.

Some outbreaks are expected each year, such as influenza. Sometimes a single case of an infectious disease may be considered an outbreak. This may be true if the disease is rare (for example: foodborne botulism) or has serious public health implications (for example: bioterrorism agent such as anthrax).

What is an epidemic?

An epidemic occurs when an infectious disease spreads rapidly to many people. In 2003, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic took the lives of nearly 800 people worldwide.

What are pandemics?

A pandemic is a global disease outbreak. It differs from an outbreak or epidemic because it:

  • Affects a wider geographical area, often worldwide

  • Infects a greater number of people than an epidemic

  • Is often caused by a new virus or a strain of virus that has not circulated among people for a long time

    • Humans usually have little to no immunity against it

    • The virus spreads quickly from person-to-person worldwide

  • Causes much higher numbers of deaths than epidemics

  • Often creates social disruption, economic loss and general hardship

While a pandemic is rare, they do reoccur periodically. Some pandemics are worse than others.

The influenza (flu) pandemic of 1918 to 1919 killed between 20 and 40 million people. It is one of the most devastating pandemics in recorded world history.

More recently, we have experienced the 2009 H1N1 Flu Pandemic and we are currently in the midst of the COVID-19 Global Pandemic declared by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020.

Public health experts say it’s not a matter of if a pandemic will happen, but when. It is essential to be prepared.

Pandemic preparation and practices

Here are a few things you can do:

  • Plan ahead in case services are disrupted.

    • This is especially important if someone in your family has special needs

    • For example, make sure to have a way to fill needed prescriptions

  • Make a list of important contacts for home, school and work

  • Talk with your neighbours, workplace and school about how to plan for staying home if you or your household members are sick

  • Have an emergency preparedness kit and ensure you include:

    • Alcohol-based hand sanitizer that’s between 70 and 90% alcohol

    • Medicines for headaches, coughs and fevers

    • Thermometer

    • Anti-diarrheal medication

    • Drinks with electrolytes

  • Stay as healthy as you can by getting adequate rest, managing stress, eating right and continuing to exercise

  • Make sure you wash your hands often with soap and water for about 15 to 20 seconds, including:

    • Before and after eating

    • After you have been in a public place

    • After using the washroom

    • After coughing and sneezing

    • After touching surfaces that other people may also touch

  • Get vaccinated

  • Follow public health guidelines

  • Use reliable sources of information from experts in public health organizations and agencies

  • Making plans now will help you to be ready for the next pandemic


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